By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal
Each Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. Farmington Baptist Church is teeming with 195 students engaged in creative, interesting, fun, mentally and physically demanding activities.
What draws these students of all ages from preschool through high school is the EAGLE Home School Association enrichment program.
From five Northeast Mississippi counties – Alcorn, Benton, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo – and three west Tennessee counties – Hardeman, Hardin and McNairy – the students, their parents and teachers who are pastors and others from the community, come together from their separate educational pursuits for elective classes and sports activities.
“The rest of the week the parents manage the rest of the schedule for their children,” said Kathleen Fox, co-president with her husband Keith Fox, of EAGLE Home School Association. “The emphasis of enrichment is electives, things parents are unable to teach at home.”
During the three periods that are held for 10 weeks during each semester, students are participating in classes that include cooking, choir, chess, crafts, volleyball, football, basketball, study skills and test-taking, drama and acting, ballet and much more.
Some parents with a teaching background also teach academic subjects in their field of expertise during these hours, this semester Mississippi history.
Parents are drawn to home schooling and the EAGLE Association for a variety of reasons, many times with a focus on giving their children a faith-based education.
“EAGLE is faith-based but nondenominational,” Kathleen Fox said. The EAGLE acronym stands for Education Administered in a Godly Living Environment, and though nondenominational members of EAGLE must abide by a Statement of Faith that is based on Christian doctrine.
The association was founded in 1985 by Jett and Anne Wilson of Corinth, who home-schooled their five children over a 24-year period. Weekly enrichment classes were added about a decade ago under the leadership of Kenny and Donna Miles.
Through the weekly enrichment sessions the children not only have opportunities for social interaction and to participate on athletic teams, but they also receive instruction from other adults besides their parents. The parents – primarily mothers – who are the primary teachers have a time and place to interact more with other adults for support and problem-solving.
Keith and Kathleen Fox are parents of five children, the youngest 13-year-old Gabriel, whom they are home schooling now. Their other four children were educated in public school and Keith and Kathleen Fox are bus drivers in the North Tippah and South Tippah school districts.
Their oldest child, Courtney Rutherford, is a public school teacher at Pontotoc Elementary School. Their other children are Alina King of Denver, Colo., Ashley Wilburn of Ripley and Timothy King of Ripley.
“We’re not anti-public school,” said Keith Fox, who also is a minister. “When Gabe became school age we felt a call from God to home-school him.”
“We had home-schooled Tim for two years,” Kathleen Fox added. “We felt if we went into the evangelistic field home schooling would be the best route.”
Participating in the EAGLE Association gives families a place for their children to participate in competitive sports through the Tri-State Christian Conference that includes six schools.
The association also provides a resource library of the many curricula available to home-school parents, and other group events available to public school students such as a spring formal, work on a yearbook staff and its finished product and a graduation exercise.
“We have a nationally recognized honor society that requires a 26 ACT score, and although we have two students who qualify they haven’t shown any interest,” Kathleen Fox said. “We also are members of the Mississippi Home Education Association.”
Charity Watson of Corinth, mother of 4-year-old Titus Watson and Baylee Watson, 15 months old, joined EAGLE this year.
“I graduated from home-school myself and was home-schooled from second grade up,” she said. “Titus catches on quickly and it’s nice to be able to see where he is and give him what he needs. I’ve already started him on the kindergarten curriculum and so far he is doing very well.”
Titus loves books, and Watson said she supplements their work together with applications on the Kindle Fire tablet personal computer and JumpStart children’s computer learning games.
“The one-on-one time home schooling gives me to focus on Titus’ needs alone is very special to me,” Watson said. “I also like EAGLE because the child gets to enjoy social interaction with other kids while enjoying the benefits of home schooling.”
In Mississippi, home schooling through elementary school has no specific accountability requirements to the state Department of Education except that parents of 5- to-17-year-olds must report to their county’s school attendance officer by Sept. 15 each year the names of their children who will be home-schooled and provide a simple description of the curriculum to be used.
Kathleen Fox, however, has kept meticulous records of Gabe’s curriculum and coursework since kindergarten, and she encourages other home-school parents to do so as well.
It is not uncommon for families to have a child in public school while another child is being home-schooled, and sometimes a child will move from home schooling into public school. At those times the records are important, as well as when the high school student is preparing for post-secondary education or to enter the workforce.
The EAGLE enrichment program has been hosted by Farmington Baptist Church for the past three years with plenty of classroom space and athletic facilities.
An EAGLE Association staff of enrichment director, assistant director, set-up coordinator, clean-up coordinator and creation night coordinator works to assure the host facility is not left with any additional work resulting from their support of the group.
“The pastor (Timothy Nall) and church have been wonderful to us,” Kathleen Fox said. “We are very grateful that they have graciously allowed us to hold our program here.”